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Shemot/Exodus 29:4 And you shall bring Aharon and his sons to the door of the Tent of Meeting, and you shall wash them in water.
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The verb starting the second section of this verse - , the 2ms Qal affix form with a vav-reversive to make it future, "and you shall wash" - comes from the root , "to wash (in reference to the body or other flesh), to wash away (Isaiah 4:4), to wash oneself, to bathe" (Davidson). Moshe is instructed, as part of the ordination or setting-in of Aharon and his sons to the priesthood, to bring them to the door of the Tent of Meeting and to wash them. Then and only then, is Moshe to dress Aharon and his sons in their priestly robes. What exactly is going on here and what does 'wash' mean in this context? Rashi offers only a short comment: "this is immersion of the entire body", while Nahum Sarna confirms, "Before being dressed in the sacred garments of office for the first time, Aharon and his sons must undergo ritual purification by immersion of the entire body in water". Sarna also adds that "For the regular daily services, only the hands and feet need to be washed, as prescribed in 30:17-21".
Targum Onkelos is aware of the different nuances possible for and varies its rendering of the verb accordingly. Onkelos translates in this verse with from the Aramaic root , which can mean "to bathe, wash" (Jastrow). Elsewhere - for example a few verses later in the same ordination ritual below, "Cut up the ram into sections, wash its entrails and legs ..." (v. 17, ), when has a meaning closer to "and you shall rinse" - Onkelos translates it as from the Aramaic root , "to wash, rinse" (Jastrow). On the other hand, when the washing is part of the preparation for service in the Tabernacle, washing the feet and hands in water from the bronze laver, Onkelos adopts a slight paraphrase, using the root , to sanctify.
RabbiHirsch connects with yet another Hebrew verb: , "to dip or immerse" (Davidson). This verb is regularly used for cleansing items which have become , ritually unclean or impure. Hirsch says, "Immersion in the element of water - , baptism! - expresses a complete departure from the realm of humanity subject to ritual impurity, and a return to original conditions, completely breaks off connection with the past and introduces a quite fresh pure future." Aharon and his sons are completely immersed in water - they are baptised - to cleanse them from ritual impurity and return them to their pure or sinless condition so that they can serve HaShem.
Before the start of Yeshua's ministry, John the Baptist - Yohanan ha'Matbiyl, "John the Immerser" in Hebrew - "went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Luke 3:3, ESV): "Turn from your sins to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!" (Matthew 3:2, CJB). Speaking of the Messiah to come, he challenged the people to "bear fruits in keeping with repentance" (Luke 3:8, ESV). "People went out to him from Yerushalayim, from all Y'hudah, and from the whole region around the Yarden. Confessing their sins, they were immersed by him in the Yarden River" (Matthew 3:5-6, CJB). People were looking for a fresh start, a way to break the connections with the sin in their past and to re-establish their relationship with G-d. John's baptism was a powerful sign of repentance and their forgiveness by G-d. But John was very clear that he was only the fore-runner; he was simply announcing the arrival of and preparing the way for the One who was to come: "I baptise you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire" (Luke 3:16-17, ESV).
On the night of the Last Supper - the Pesach seder that Yeshua celebrated with his disciples in Jerusalem on the night before He was betrayed - John tells us that Yeshua removed His outer clothing and started washing the feet of His disciples. This job would normally have been done by a servant and by doing it Himself, Yeshua taught the disciples about servanthood and the need to serve one another. When He got to Simon Peter, however, Peter objected; it was not appropriate, he said, for Yeshua to wash his feet. Yeshua told him, "If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me" (John 13:8, ESV), so Peter - never a man for half-measures - changed his mind: "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" (v. 9, ESV). "No", Yeshua told him, "that isn't necessary. The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean" (v. 10, ESV). How and when has Peter washed? By being with Yeshua for three years, by putting down his livelihood to follow Yeshua. He is about to wobble, denying Yeshua three times at the house of the High Priest, but he is committed to following Yeshua and will also be restored.
When we are brought by the Ruach to the point of meeting with G-d, when we are prepared to humble ourselves, confess our sins, acknowledge Yeshua as our L-rd and ask to be admitted into His kingdom, receiving forgiveness and reconciliation, then we are baptised - in John's words - "with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Luke 3:16, ESV). We are given new life - that "fresh, pure future" of which Rabbi Hirsch spoke - in Messiah, as a part of His body: "Don't you know that those of us who have been immersed into the Messiah Yeshua have been immersed into His death? Through immersion into His death we were buried with Him; so that just as, through the glory of the Father, the Messiah was raised from the dead, likewise we too might live a new life" (Romans 6:2-4, CJB).
This is the same pattern that was established when HaShem brought our ancestors out of Egypt after the plagues and the first Passover, and brought us to Mt. Sinai - the place of meeting - where we became His people by accepting His covenant. Rav Sha'ul explains: "Brothers, I don't want you to miss the significance of what happened to our fathers. All of them were guided by the pillar of cloud, and they all passed through the sea, and in connection with the cloud and with the sea they all immersed themselves into Moshe, also they all ate the same food from the Spirit, and they all drank the same drink from the Spirit - for they drank from a Spirit-sent Rock which followed them, and that Rock was the Messiah" (1 Corinthians 10:1-4, CJB). Sha'ul picks up here on the established Jewish idea that the Israelite's water source - at times a rock, at times a well - followed the Israelites through the wilderness in the merit of Miriam the prophetess, Moshe's sister, only He corrects its origin: it was Messiah who accompanied our people through the desert providing water for us to drink. Sha'ul underlines the role of the Spirit and water in baptism for believers in Yeshua, when he tells the Corinthians, "Just as the body is one but has many parts; and all the parts of the body, though many, constitute one body; so it is with the Messiah. For it was by one Spirit that we were all immersed into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free; and we were all given the one Spirit to drink" (12:12-13, CJB).
G-d is still meeting with people, from both the Jewish and Gentile worlds, and equipping them to serve Him in work and worship. Just as Moshe brought Aharon and his sons to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, there to wash them in fresh water that they might be ritually pure for serving Him, so He continues to call people by His Spirit to come and meet with Him, to immerse them in Messiah Yeshua that they might be set free from the contamination of sin and come into a living relationship with Him to serve Him. We have all been called to meet with Yeshua, but many refuse the invitation, so refusing G-d Himself and a place in the kingdom of G-d. The alternative is, to say the least, unpalatable, while Yeshua offers thirst-quenching living water - in limitless supply - to meet every need in the raging heat of life in the desert. The choice would seem obvious ...
Further Study: Isaiah 41:17-20; Malachi 3:2-4; John 15:1-3
Application: Have you come to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting and been washed by the living water of G-d's word? Have you been baptised into Messiah Yeshua and received His Spirit in your life? Come, come forward today and be cleansed, empowered and commissioned to serve the Living G-d!
© Jonathan Allen, 2014
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